Auburn, Alabama is home to sprawling plains, Auburn University, and a troubling police force. After the arrival of a new police chief in 2010, the department entered an era of ticket quotas and worse.
“When I first heard about the quotas I was appalled,” says former Auburn police officer Justin Hanners, who claims he and other cops were given directives to hassle, ticket, or arrest specific numbers of residents per shift. “I got into law enforcement to serve and protect, not be a bully.”
Hanners blew the whistle on the department’s tactics and was eventually fired for refusing to comply and keep quiet. He says that each officer was required to make 100 contacts each month, which included tickets, arrests, field interviews, and warnings. This equates to 72,000 contacts a year in a 50,000 person town. His claims are backed up by audio recordings of his superiors he made. The Auburn police department declined requests to be interviewed for this story.
“There are not that many speeders, there are not that many people running red lights to get those numbers, so what [the police] do is they lower their standards,” says Hanners. That led to the department encouraging officers to arrest people that Hanners “didn’t feel like had broken the law.”
Former Reason staffer Radley Balko, now an investigative reporter for the Huffington Post and author of the new book, Rise of the Warrior Cop, says that this isn’t just a nuisance, it infringes on public safety.
“You have a policy that encourages police to create petty crimes and ignore serious crimes, and that’s clearly the opposite of what we want our police to be doing,” says Balko.
Hanners repeatedly voiced his concerns through his chain of command, and the department responded that these requirements are necessary for increasing productivity.
Yet Hanners firmly believes that the quotas are entirely revenue driven.
“I had no intention of dropping it,” says Hanners, “This is a problem in more places than Auburn, and I think once the people know that they can hold their public officials accountable, it’ll change.”
The police chief singled out by Hanners retired this July, citing medical reasons.
About 7 minutes.
Written and produced by Tracy Oppenheimer. Camera by Alex Manning.
Music by The Jowe Head Band, “For Whom the Bell Tolls.”